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James Shirley, the biologist was denied tenure by MIT. An African-American, he claims racism. I suspect (but cannot prove) however, that it is his anti-human cloning and ESCR mindset that caused his denial—which is highlighted in “A Stem-Cell Heretic Makes His Case: MIT Scientist Says Embryo Research Is Unlikely to Lead to Cures,” byline Peter Landers of the Wall Street Journal (no link). Here are some good pull quotes:

Embryonic stem-cell researchers are prone to touting the potential of their work to treat all sorts of ailments, from diabetes to Parkinson’s disease. Don’t bet on it, says James Sherley, a stem-cell specialist himself, who has become a notable heretic in the field... The 49-year-old MIT associate professor, who earned M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Johns Hopkins University, formed his scientific view after many years studying cancer and cell division. He thinks embryonic stem cells, to be useful, would have to be turned into adult stem cells first. In that case, he asserts, there is no need to rush into research with the embryonic cells...

Stem cells from embryos only a few days old have the power to turn into any organ. [Actually, this remains entirely theoretical since it hasn’t been actually accomplished.] Thus the hope for cures: If embryonic stem cells can be coaxed to turn into pancreatic cells making insulin, for example, diabetics treated with the cells might be able to avoid regular insulin injections. In theory, the same starting line of embryonic cells could be used to create new nerve cells for the paralyzed, cardiac cells for damaged hearts and so on. Stem cells in adults, by contrast, are generally limited to replenishing the organs where they’re produced.

But Dr. Sherley isn’t buying the proposition that more-versatile embryonic stem cells would be easier to use in treatment. The transformation of an embryonic stem cell, he says, is a one-way street: Once one of the cells turns, say, into a pancreatic cell, it can’t go back. That’s different from adult stem cells, which typically divide into two—one “differentiated” cell with a specific function and another stem cell. In this way, adult stem cells keep their own numbers steady, even as they regenerate the organ they belong to.
The story makes it clear that Shirley’s views are heterodox. But science is supposed to have heterodox thinkers. Unfortunately, the word “heretical” used in the headline is the precise problem with science today: Scientists who don’t unequivocally support ESCR and human cloning research can expect to be metaphorically burned at the stake.

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